Mexico mops up after Hurricane John

Hurricane John ripped tin roofs off homes, knocked out power and sent billboards flying in the southern tip of Baja California before weakening to a tropical storm that could still bring flash floods and mudslides as it crosses the peninsula.

No deaths were reported as the storm blew through the city of La Paz, capital of the Mexican state of Baja California del Sur, but it was still lashing the peninsula with heavy rains late on Saturday. One man survived being swept 5km by flood waters.

John was a category-two storm with 160kph winds when it struck land near isolated hamlets north-east of the tourist resorts in Los Cabos on Friday night. But it slipped to tropical-storm status, its winds dropping to 95kph on Saturday night as it cut to the north-west along the peninsula.

The storm was about 55km south of Loreto, a rapidly growing centre of retirement and vacation homes for United States citizens.
It was moving at 13kph and was expected to remain over the peninsula for a day, dumping up to 45cm of rain in parts before hitting cooler waters in the Pacific and dying, the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami said. 

The centre warned the heavy rains could bring “life-threatening” flash floods and mudslides as John passed over the peninsula’s mountainous terrain.

People experienced John’s passage over Los Cabos—home to Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo—depending largely on whether they were tourists taking shelter in the resort towns or members of the local population that builds and staffs them.

“They had an open bar and a little DJ come in,” recounted Tim Anderson, a highway administration employee from Alamosa, Colorado, who waited out the hurricane in a hotel in San Jose del Cabo.

But Ruben Moreno (32), a bricklayer, saw the hurricane from a different perspective, huddled in his shack made of tarpaper, tin and plastic tarps in one of Cabo San Lucas’s townships.

“The wind came through hard, early in the morning,” said Moreno, who defied evacuation orders and waited out the hurricane at his home. Nearby, a stream of water had coursed through the camp, piling mud and sand in its wake. At least two of his neighbours’ jury-rigged, wood-frame shacks had collapsed, leaving a mix of plastic sheeting, tarpaper and blankets in the sand.

The airport serving Los Cabos reopened on Saturday, and lines of tourists formed to catch flights out of the still largely shuttered beach towns, their vacations spoiled. The airport was closed on Thursday night as the storm approached.

“We planned on six days of sport fishing, and we got one,” said Dave Rhode of Santa Barbara, California, who had his boat taken out of the water on Thursday as the hurricane neared. He managed to get a seat on a flight out “after a few phone calls”.

Asked if he would return to this normally sun-dappled coast, Rhode answered: “We always come back.”

John knocked out electricity, downed trees and sent billboards flying in La Paz, a city of more than 150 000 people.

Los Cabos mayor Luis Armando Diaz said homes were damaged and a highway cut off farther along the coast where the storm hit, between his city and La Paz. In one of those towns, Los Barriles, residents reached by telephone told local radio stations that tin roofs were ripped from homes.

One man was swept away by flood waters while trying to cross a river in a sport utility vehicle on Saturday in La Paz, authorities said. He was found alive hours later, clinging to a pile of branches in the middle of the stream. He was in stable condition at a local hospital.

Alberto Coppel, president of the Los Cabos hotel association, said no guests were injured and no hotels suffered significant damage.—Sapa-AP

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